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  • Writer's pictureJoel Onyshuk

Episode #07 - A Nutty Legacy Ft. Andy Shirk - Show Notes

Joel welcomes Andy Shirk, President and 3rd generation leader of BEER NUTS Brand Snacks. Andy, leader of this iconic brand, talks about family legacy, the challenge of innovation, and so much more! Check it out now in our seventh episode!

Share with us about BEER NUTS, what makes you unique?

We are a uniquely sweet and salty snack company, as we describe ourselves. We are a fun brand that produces nut-based products we sell all over the country. We are based here in Bloomington, IL. We're a family business and we're happily feeding the fun across the country.

You guys are prolific, everywhere. You've been in Bloomington since day one?

Correct, we say we're 69 years old, we've owned our product since 1937. We're in a unique situation where we have a big brand for a small company. You try to take advantage of that, it can work in our favor quite a bit, but every once in a while it kind of backfires. We're a smaller company and sort of like that, and it allows us to make sure we're putting our quality products.

Your products are very well known, highlighted on the Simpsons, do you have any celebrity relationships that have endorsed you guys?

We don't keep close contact with anyone, but when people promote our brand, we'll send them products. There's Norm from Cheers, I've had encounters with a professional football player, Jared Allen, one time at a bar in Colorado, and traded hats with him. There's a bunch. We're out there but we're not actively pushing it. People love the brand and product as well.

We started in bars, but bars evolved as kitchens entered and started serving food, we disappeared a bit. We're pushing back into bars, we were one of the early staples in bars.

You have such a history. How do you stay true to what keeps people coming back with those legacy products and balance that with innovation?

It's a very good question. Looking back, we haven't changed our process since day one. We make the product the exact same way we did then. That's how we maintain what we had. We've added a few products, from just peanuts to cashews and almonds. As we've gotten into the 2000s, trail mix has started. We created the bar mix, we should have trademarked it but we didn't. We're continuously looking at flavor trends and how we can innovate our product line without bastardizing the past or customers who like our original product.

There's a legacy at BEER NUTS, what has been your greatest challenge?

It's continuing to challenge our positions of what we think is right. How do we continue to stay current and get better as well? There's a time when we sat on our hands for a decade and didn't do much, but we have to keep evolving and moving forward. We have some big steps we need to take but that's been a challenge, getting things up to current.

And being a small nimble company but with a big name, we have the opportunity to make jumps quickly, so breaking off the rust of the past so we can do that has been a challenge.

Do you feel pressure as President but also the family that is unique?

Yeah, I take it beyond that. There's community pressure, I grew up in this town and I left for about 13 years before coming back. There's pressure everywhere.

How would you describe the BEER NUTS purpose in a nutshell?

I don't have it figured out yet, is the best way to put it. We say our mission is to feed the fun. We want to be where people are gathering and having a good time and be a little bit of fuel to that fire of good experience. But connecting that all the way through to what's our social mission, I don't have that figured out yet. It's on the front of our mind but we're not quite sure, or what's appropriate for our brand and customer.

When you look at 10x-ing your growth, that's a big audacious goal and if you're not careful could remain an executive goal. How have you tackled connecting hearts and minds on the frontline with the goal the company has?

Quarterly we go through where we are, where we are going and then we work backward from there. It's the EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) process, these are our core values, this is our plan, and this is how we do it. It's on onboarding for any role in the company. It's a never-ending effort but without having that goal, it would be very difficult getting everybody on the same page.

When you believed something was right, you were going to make it happen, how do you get the courage to do that?

I don't know if it's the courage or the frustration, it's a fine line. I can see the potential, we've made some steps to grow, but I see a much greater potential and I see it as my job to get us there and I know I'm going to have opposition but I know thinking in the long term, every step I have to be all in on or it's not the right decision. I'm one to overanalyze at times. When it's clear you do it, you kinda got to bet your career on it. I'd rather go all-in on something I know is right and lose my job, than not.

What's your biggest fear?

Ironically, it's getting too far ahead of the company. I can see a couple steps ahead, but my worry is that I don't wait at times where I need to wait. I just want to go go go, and at times you need to wait and be patient.

What's something that you believe, that if everyone else believed too, would make the world a better place?

You are capable of more than you know. This is an easy one, thinking of the people in our company/teammates. Everyone tops out at some point but I love it when we are able to identify someone and say, you're better than you think, and help them get to the next step.

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